INDEX (stories follow)
from Democracy Now! | Healthcare Reform by firstname.lastname@example.org (Democracy Now!)
- Obama: U.S. Won’t Release Bin Laden Photos
- Pakistan Claims It Warned CIA of Bin Laden Compound
- American Indian Groups Seek U.S. Apology for Labeling Bin Laden “Geronimo”
- Gaddafi Forces Attack Aid Ship
- ICC Prosecutor Unveils Plan for Libya Warrants
- Obama Admin to Propose Lower Corporate Tax Rate
- U.S. House OKs Anti-Abortion Bill
- Illinois Drops Out of “Secure Communities” Program
- Palestinian Factions Sign Unity Deal in Egypt
- Israel: Unity Deal a “Blow to Peace”
- Syria Extends Crackdown to Damascus Suburb
- Thousands Protest Saleh in Yemen
- Workers Re-Enter Fukushima Nuclear Plant in Japan
- Ashcroft Hired as Blackwater “Ethics” Director
The first thing to say is that Democratic leaders and the Obama administration only have themselves to blame for this torture issue still being salient. It can be deployed by the Cheney family and their surrogates only because Democratic leaders made a decision not to have anyone prosecuted for the crimes of the Bush administration. Not torture. Not warrantless domestic surveillance. Nada. If there had been prosecutions, and, better, convictions for torture, then people defending it would be defending convicted criminals,and would reveal themselves for what they are.
The second thing to say is that an Arabic source suggests that interrogations may not have been decisive in cracking the case. Al-Sharq al-Awsat, interviews Nu’man Bin Uthman, a former fighter with a Libyan terrorist group, who is reformed and now based in London, but still has good contacts among radicals.
Bin Uthman says that his sources tell him that Bin Laden’s courier, Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti, made a key mistake when, in 2010, he used a Thurayya satellite phone to call an important al-Qaeda leader based in Iraq.
This allegation is plausible. It appears to have been 2010 when al-Kuwaiti was tracked to the house in Abbotabad by US intelligence. The US excels at signals intelligence.
It is not clear how Bin Uthman knows about the fatal 2010 telephone call, but remaining al-Qaeda leaders may have done a quick review after their leader was killed, and concluded that this mistake had led to the US raid; perhaps they are sending around their conclusion to warn others in the organization not to be so stupid.
So, interrogation may have helped confirm al-Kuwaiti’s role as courier to Bin Laden, but the phone call would have led US intelligence to begin tracking him anyway.
Torture is despicable, and that we are even having this debate shows how far we have moved from the Bill of Rights and our Constitution.
I believe when you support something you should be willing to look full in the face at what you have done. War is Hell, even when we win, it’s ugly.
Last Updated: May 6, 2011
On Monday night, in celebration of the death of Osama bin Laden, thousands of Americans took to the street waving flags and revelling in what was both righteous justice and jingoism. That same day I saw hundreds of thousands of communists, leftists and workers take to the streets of Istanbul and Ankara to commemorate May Day and demand more rights. Some sang an old communist guerrilla song about taking to the mountains to fight. Some saluted martyred student leaders from the 1970s. Others shouted “long live the worker’s struggle!” and “hunger, poverty and us, this is your capitalist system”.
Drawing conclusions from chance incidents in different countries can make one sound like Thomas Friedman. Nevertheless, to me, the two demonstrations seemed to symbolise the diverging trajectories of the East and West. In the Middle East, in what is being called an awakening, leaderless popular movements march to demand secular and leftist notions of universal rights. In doing so, they undermine dictatorships favoured by the US and religious extremists opposed to the US, alike.
Contrary to the claims of many western commentators, it turns out that people in the Middle East understand democracy very well. They proved that leaders rule only with the consent of the governed and that if the people demand their rights, they cannot be stopped. On the other hand, America, a nation in economic and political decline but perpetual war, was engrossed in right-wing conspiracy theories about where President Obama was born. That was before it received the nationalist fillip of an assassination 10 years, and one trillion dollars, in the making.
Following the attacks of September 11, America engaged in little introspection about its relationship with developing countries. Instead the nation embraced a self-righteous narrative about a Muslim world that “hated us for our freedoms” and had to be taught a lesson (“suck on this,” as Friedman suggested). Americans sought revenge in Afghanistan and Iraq. They backed dictators and warlords. They abandoned the pretence of international law, vacillated on civil liberties and declared a global war. America’s wars in the Muslim world killed tens of thousands of innocents. And still Americans clung to the belief that they were the good guys fighting for freedom. Now, the exaggerated American reaction to the killing of one man makes it seem as though the war has been won. That gives far too much significance to one ageing extremist hiding in Pakistan.
It is important to be clear about what, fundamentally, al Qa’eda is – what the sources of its appeal are and how limited its power has always been. Thanks to an industry of overnight experts and celebrity pundits, the group was presented in the West as a social movement with roots in the Arab world. The so-called experts advocated a battle of ideas, as though al Qa’eda was a dominant phenomenon and not a marginal group of a few hundred men out of one billion Muslims. These experts mixed only with the elites in the Arab world; all they knew of al Qa’eda were translations of pro-jihadist websites or videos. They did not spend time living and working with normal people and learning their concerns. They viewed Muslims as robots programmed only by Islam. Some supported “deradicalisation” programmes, to install new software into the robots’ minds.
The truth is that al Qa’eda was a fringe organisation without roots in the Arab world, and that it has had almost no successes since it got lucky on September 11. It used its “A team” on that day to target a slumbering nation, and it got lucky. The attacks, which were tragic and criminal, came as a shock to a powerful, arrogant and proud nation blissfully unaware of the resentment it inspired. But they had little direct impact on the American economy or way of life. It was the American response, both at home and abroad, which changed everything.
The discourse used by those who fight imperialism may have shifted over the years from Marxist and nationalist to jihadist, but in the end the people of the Middle East just want to be left alone. America’s militaristic imperialism is likely to engender violent resistance movements regardless of the ideological environment.
All the same, a major source of support for al Qa’eda is now something beyond anti-Americanism. It is the tension between Sunnis and Shiites in Lebanon, Kuwait, Bahrain, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. In this internal war in the Muslim world, al Qa’eda has become a major driving force of Sunni-Shiite hatred. Even non-Islamists have become sectarian and are adopting the Salafi view of Shiites. Some of them seem to view al Qa’eda as a potent symbol and an effective way to combat perceived Shiite expansion. Two weeks ago I was in a remote village in Diyala’s Balad Ruz area visiting a Shiite village destroyed by al Qa’eda during the civil war. The al Qa’eda attackers had written on the remains of a home they blew up “Osama bin Laden is the sheikh of Islam”.
How serious a force is al Qa’eda now? In my travels from Mogadishu to villages in Lebanon’s Sunni areas to Iraq to remote areas of Afghanistan I have indeed met some people who admired “Sheikh Osama” (though never anyone who liked his associate and presumed successor, Ayman al Zawahiri). These fans were mostly young, few in number and comically unsophisticated. One group tried to blow up a McDonald’s but sat down to eat inside it first, only to be caught on camera. Others are under such surveillance by powerful security forces that they get arrested just for talking about attacking Americans. Perhaps they may seek revenge for the slaying of their hero. Among the masses, though, there is no support for al Qa’eda, even if there is a deep resentment of American policy.
The threat from al Qa’eda was always exaggerated. The group was largely destroyed during the American invasion of Afghanistan. Forced into hiding in Pakistan, the remaining leadership was not able to run operations. Instead, al Qa’eda became a tactic for smaller groups to emulate. This can still be dangerous, of course. But the most serious blow to al Qa’eda, both as an organisation and as an example, was not struck by drones and “the quiet professionals” who can assassinate at will. It was struck by the millions of Arabs who have led a leaderless revolution, overthrowing dictators and ignoring al Qa’eda’s view that a vanguard was needed.
There are now two dynamics at work in the Middle East and the US is unable to stop either one. On the one hand, popular revolutions led by youth and workers are overthrowing calcified dictators. On the other, strife between Sunnis and Shiites is at an all-time high and will likely lead to further violence. Al Qa’eda is now not an anti-imperialist force, it is a Sunni group fighting Shiites in a sectarian war throughout the region. This is bin Laden’s most important legacy.
Nevertheless, some parallels to the Arab reaction to bin Laden’s assassination may be found in Saddam Hussein’s execution. Both men were reviled by the majority of Muslims. There was always a minority who romanticised Saddam and bin Laden after the fact. And yet the vast majority of Muslims – secular and Shiite ones included – could not gloat after their deaths, even if they didn’t like them. They cannot celebrate an execution committed by the Americans because of the colonial implications inherent in the act. Just as the memory of Saddam was helped after the American occupation killed him, so, too, will some reconsider the memory of bin Laden, and he too may become an anti-colonial icon and martyr. Only an American execution can rehabilitate such criminals.
Americans complain when others celebrate the killing of Americans, but the world watched Americans rejoicing in an execution. While the Americans keep trying to present their violent acts as somehow sanctioned by notions of law and right and the “international community”, Muslim masses will continue to have the opposite view because of how ingrained their enmity to colonialism is. Decades of oppression, the recent occupation of Iraq and most recently the belated withdrawal of American support for Mubarak mean that many Arabs will not trust the American account. They have been lied to before, and they will not sympathise with the American narrative because Americans showed them only cruelty.
Just as al Qa’eda’s excesses brought about its own destruction, so too did the American response to al Qa’eda narrow the gap between America and other global and regional contenders, both politically and economically. America’s excessive use of force led to a weakening of its hegemony. Now the Arab people are seizing their destiny. A revolt against Arab dictators is a revolt against their American sponsor too. American foreign policy in the Middle East was based on what it perceived to be good for America, not what was good for the region. But the region is fighting back. America may have succeeded in killing one extremist hiding in Pakistan, but it is losing its grip on the Arab world.
Nir Rosen’s latest book, Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America’s Wars in the Muslim World, is about civil war, sectarian, occupation and resistance from Iraq to Lebanon to Afghanistan.
The new details suggested that the raid, though chaotic and bloody, was extremely one-sided, with a force of more than 20 Navy Seal members quickly dispatching the handful of men protecting Bin Laden.
Administration officials said that the only shots fired by those in the compound came at the beginning of the operation, when Bin Laden’s trusted courier, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, opened fire from behind the door of the guesthouse adjacent to the house where Bin Laden was hiding.
After the Seal members shot and killed Mr. Kuwaiti and a woman in the guesthouse, the Americans were never fired upon again.
This account differs from an official version of events issued by the Pentagon on Tuesday, and read by the White House spokesman, Jay Carney, which said the Seal members “were engaged in a firefight throughout the operation.”
Today, an administration representative finessed Carney’s statement with this:
“They were in a threatening and hostile environment the entire time,” one American official said.
Howso? When one man fires on you at the very beginning of an operation and no one else fires on you until the end, yet your forces kill a total of five individuals (only one of whom appears to have been armed), who is threatened and who is hostile? Let’s be clear: the threat and hostility were virtually all on the American side and not on the residents side.
Yesterday, officials had said the Al Qaeda leader was killed not because he fired at anyone, but because he “resisted” in some unspecified way. At other junctures, they said he would not have been killed had he surrendered in a demonstrable way.
In today’s version, they now claim that Bin Laden was armed (was he or wasn’t he?):
When the commandos reached the top floor, they entered a room and saw Osama bin Laden with an AK-47 and a Makarov pistol in arm’s reach. They shot and killed him, as well as wounding a woman with him.
Yet strangely they don’t indicate that he fired at them. So we now have three different versions of Bin Laden’s status. At first, he was armed and fired at the attackers using his wife as a shield. Then, he was unarmed, but hadn’t surrendered. Today, he’s gone back to being armed. It reminds me of John Kerry’s campaign claim that he for the legislation before he was against it. Again, the video of the encounter is the only evidence that will prove the truth of their claim. It will clearly show whether Bin Laden had a weapon in his hand or not.
Today’s adumbration of the story indicates to me that, as I wrote yesterday, there likely was a shoot to kill order that did not include apprehending Bin Laden. Note that when Bin Laden’s wife rushed at the attackers they had the presence of mind, despite the “chaotic bloody” situation, to shoot her in the leg, while they placed one neatly targeted bullet in his head. I have very little doubt that this was a kill shot and that it was what was the goal of the entire operation.
Obama and his national security team intended to kill, rather than capture Bin Laden. Frankly, as my wife says, no American will care about any of this. But not only do I care, I think that history will care. Perhaps an expedient politician like Obama can make calculations that he can obscure the facts enough that he will not pay a price. But I hope and believe that history will make him pay a price if he has lied.
I remind him that at one time George Bush bestrode the world like a Colossus invading Middle Eastern countries right and left, threatening enemies and allies alike, making claims that were virtually unquestioned except by a few unpersuaded reporters. Look at his reputation now.
Eric Holder is also making highly specious claims concerning the legality of the assassination:
Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday that the U.S. military mission that killed Osama bin Laden “was justified as an act of national self-defense” and that Navy SEALs would have had good grounds to shoot bin Laden even if he sought to surrender. The White House later Wednesday called the operation “fully consistent with the laws of war.”
“It’s lawful to target an enemy commander in the field. We did so for instance with regard to [Japanese Admiral Isoroku] Yamamoto in World War II. He was shot down in an airplane. [Bin Laden] was by my estimation and the estimation of the Justice Department a lawful military target and the operation was conducted in a way that was consistent with our law, with our values.”
He might have been an enemy commander, but when he’s holed up in a compound outside a war zone (such as Afghanistan), and within which it’s impossible for him to play much of a role in the field, how do you argue he’s a “commander in the field?” Killing a Japanese admiral flying in a war plane in the middle of a declared war is, it seems to me, quite different from what the Navy SEALS did to Bin Laden.
Also, killing a figure who killed your citizens is an act of retaliation but not self-defense. The latter happens when you are protecting your country from attack. Bin Laden had already attacked America and every reasonable expert concedes he wasn’t playing an operational role in anything now given his extreme seclusion. Claiming that killing him would somehow prevent future attacks on America is dubious. I would have no problem describing this operation as a response to 9/11, but self-defense is not part of that.
Given this statement by Holder during Congressional testimony, it seems likely, as I state above, that the SEALS were there neither to have tea with Bin Laden nor accept his surrender:
…The attorney general said there’d have been a “good basis” for the SEALs to have killed the Al Qaeda leader even if he gave some indication of giving up.
I’m touched also by Sen. Lindsay Graham’s solicitousness for the nine children who lived in the compound. According to him, the SEALS were only protecting the kids when they put a bullet through Osama’s brain:
…Shooting him as soon as possible probably protected everybody, including the SEALs andwomen and children.”
Regarding the alleged brouhaha over the Bin Laden photos, the question is not whether to release them. That will tell us little. We need to see what happened inside the compound, specifically in Bin Laden’s quarters. My hunch is that the video will not confirm the account peddled by the administration. If it does, then it should release it. If it doesn’t, we’ll know why.
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In this one, the Chicago Tribune‘s Steve Chapman writes,
- In his March 26 radio address, Obama said the United States acted because Gadhafi threatened “a bloodbath.” Two days later, he asserted, “We knew that if we waited one more day, Benghazi — a city nearly the size of Charlotte (N.C.) — could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world.”
Really? Obama implied that, absent our intervention, Gadhafi might have killed nearly 700,000 people, putting it in a class with the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. White House adviser Dennis Ross was only slightly less alarmist when he reportedly cited “the real or imminent possibility that up to a 100,000 people could be massacred.”
But these are outlandish scenarios that go beyond any reasonable interpretation of Gadhafi’s words. He said, “We will have no mercy on them” — but by “them,” he plainly was referring to armed rebels (“traitors”) who stand and fight, not all the city’s inhabitants.
“We have left the way open to them,” he said. “Escape. Let those who escape go forever.” He pledged that “whoever hands over his weapons, stays at home without any weapons, whatever he did previously, he will be pardoned, protected.”
He also quotes Alan Kuperman, an associate professor at the University of Texas’ Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, as having said,
- Qadhafi did not massacre civilians in any of the other big cities he captured — Zawiya, Misrata, Ajdabiya — which together have a population equal to Benghazi. Yes, civilians were killed in a typical, ham-handed, Third World counterinsurgency. But civilians were not targeted for massacre as in Rwanda, Darfur, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bosnia, or even Kosovo after NATO intervention.
Chapman also wrote,
- I emailed the White House press office several times asking for concrete evidence of the danger, based on any information the administration may have. But a spokesman declined to comment.
That’s a surprising omission, given that a looming holocaust was the centerpiece of the president’s case for war. Absent specific, reliable evidence, we have to wonder if the president succumbed to unwarranted panic over fictitious dangers.
The second article that Walt linked to in that section was this March 22 piece by Alan Kuperman himself. Kuperman is a very thoughtful analyst of the uses and many known abuses for the concept of humanitarian “intervention”, whose work I think I have cited here on JWN before.
- Proponents of such intervention claim it is the only way to protect Libya’s populace. But intervening actually magnifies the threat to civilians in Libya, and beyond. That is because armed uprisings, such as Libya’s, typically provoke massive state retaliation that harms innocents. By contrast, non-violent movements, as in Egypt and Tunisia, rarely trigger so brutal a response.
By helping rebels, we thus increase the risk of retaliatory massacres or even genocide. Indeed, The New York Times reported that violence threatening Libya’s civilians was ” provoked by rebels.” Aiding the Libyan rebels also encourages copycat uprisings in other countries, proliferating the risk of atrocities.
Kuperman makes these very poignant points:
- But did Gadhafi massacre civilians or plan to commit genocide?
His forces certainly harmed innocents while defeating rebels in urban areas, as U.S. forces have done in Iraq and Afghanistan. And he did threaten “no mercy” in Benghazi, but Gadhafi directed this threat only at rebels to persuade them to flee. Despite ubiquitous cellphone cameras, there are no images of genocidal violence, a claim that smacks of rebel propaganda.
Indeed, Libya’s rebels started the war knowing that they could not win on their own, and that their attacks would provoke harm against civilians, aiming to draw in outside support — and it worked. Tragically, this same dynamic has cost thousands of lives in other wars.
In Bosnia’s conflict of the early 1990s, for example, the most influential Muslim politician, Omer Behmen, later told me that his whole strategy was to ” put up a fight for long enough to bring in the international community.” The result? Three years of war and 100,000 dead.
In Kosovo, a senior ethnic Albanian official, Dugi Gorani, confessed on BBC: “The more civilians were killed, the chances of international intervention became bigger, and the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army) of course realized that.” NATO’s intervention backfired by escalating the conflict, leaving 10,000 dead and a million expelled from their homes.
In Darfur, Sudan, the top rebel leader fought for three years and then rejected a peace offer in 2006, despite retaliation that killed more than 100,000. Abdul Wahid al Nur later explained that he was waiting for greater U.S. and British intervention “like in Bosnia.”
His piece ends with a really helpful, five-point plan to try to ensure that “humanitarian” support does not end up getting used/abused to fuel cycles of violence that increase the suffering of noncombatants.
The three key ones are:
- •Deliver purely humanitarian aid — food, water, sanitation, shelter, medical care — in ways that minimize the benefit to rebels. The United States admirably is delivering supplies to Libyan refugees across the border in Tunisia and Egypt. But we should ensure that relief sites do not become rear bases for Libya’s rebels. If local governments are unwilling to patrol the refugee encampments, we should organize multilateral policing.
•Expend substantial resources to persuade states to address the legitimate grievances of non-violent domestic groups. Ironically, Obama has applied little pressure on Yemen and Bahrain, which slaughtered peaceful protesters, but he bombed Libya for responding to armed rebels. This sends precisely the wrong message to the Arab street: If you want U.S. support, resort to violence.
•Do not coerce regime change or surrender of sovereignty unless also taking precautions against violent backlash — such as golden parachutes, power-sharing, or preventive military intervention. If the White House insists on Gadhafi’s departure, it should guarantee asylum for him and a continuing share of power for his senior officials and allied tribes. Simply demanding regime change could drive him to genocidal violence as a last resort, while the international community lacks the will for a preventive deployment of ground troops.
I have to confess I have been in a near-depressive state since March 19, the day Pres. Obama launched the current, extremely irresponsible and damaging (bordering on criminal) NATO-GCC attack on Libya. Okay, I admit that maybe I was naive, believing a good amount of “that hope-changey thing” that Obama promised us when he was a candidate. A good part of why I supported his presidential bid with such energy was precisely because, back in 2003, he’d opposed the decision to attack Iraq… Then he launched the escalation of the war in Afghanistan… And now, he’s launched this other, completely avoidable war.
I’ve been quite depressed, too, to see how many of my friends and close allies have supported this latest war, on allegedly “liberal” or “pro-liberation” grounds that, while I understand what they’re talking about, I find absolutely unconvincing.
As Chapman and Kuperman persistently asked: where was the evidence for the imminence of any act of mass atrocity in Benghazi??
Back on March 27, I blogged about the report the on-the-ground ICRC delegation published about the humanitarian situation in and around Benghazi on March 18. No mention there of any impending humanitarian disaster. Indeed, from the actually humanitarian (as opposed to faux-humanitarian) point of view, the situation in Benghazi was apparently getting a little better on March 18, with aid shipments getting through, etc.
… Oh yes, plenty to get depressed about. But I have two exciting books my publishing company is working on and some pretty exciting (fingers crossed!) developments in the family, as well… And getting depressed certainly doesn’t help anyone build the kind of awareness and the kind of movement that is needed to bring an end to all these insane wars.
Also, lest I forget, the whole of Steve Walt’s piece there, “Is America Addicted to War?”, is definitely worth reading.